Blue Skies Ahead With Fashion Made From Smog!

New technology repurposes atmospheric particles for fashion.

May 7, 2021


Blue Skies Ahead With Fashion Made From Smog! | New technology repurposes atmospheric particles for fashion.

It is widely known that the fashion industry is one of the most environmentally challenging yet innovative industries addressing sustainability, and we’ve news on a fascinating  innovation.

Alternatives that replace the use of chemical dyes have been developed in recent years to minimize the heavy impacts traditional methods have had on people and on the planet. Today’s more environmentally-friendly innovations include screen printing ink made with algae cells, and digital printing solutions that don't require much water, or any at all.

Now a revolutionary invention has joined the trend, this time by capturing and transforming harmful atmospheric particles into a useful product, aka “AIR-INK”. This upcycled air pollution gives designers the true black shade they’re looking for, according to Fast Company.

The minds behind this groundbreaking venture, with a stunning tag line of “Don’t breathe in pollution. Wear it” are Pangaia, a streetwear label that strives to use experimental sustainable materials, in partnership with Graviky Labs, a startup born out of an MIT project. Together, they are the first to use this type of ink in clothing. 

This venture was born after Anirudh Sharma, Graviky’s cofounder, came up with the idea of ​​capturing carbon particles present in the atmosphere, and emitted by manufacturing plants in India, his country of origin. There, air pollution levels are among the highest in the world, and rising. This diminishing urban air quality is shown in a study led by the Universities of Birmingham and UCL and published in the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics journal. 

Sharma’s efforts are centered on carbon, one of the main causes of air contamination. When fossil fuels are burnt, these carbon particles enter the atmosphere, creating significant harm in a very short time. They can impact the climate, but also the cryosphere (the parts of the Earth’s surface covered in snow and ice), agriculture and human health, according to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition

How does Sharma’s amazing process happen? Everything starts when carbon emissions are captured using a special technology. Then, carbon streams are analyzed and sorted based on their physical and material properties. A third step involves a patented treatment method through which carbon emissions are transformed into usable carbon. Lastly, the resulting resource is turned into the final product, a carbon-based ink, Graviky Labs details.

Sharma’s idea creates a new product and a whole market out of air trash, which generates revenue. There is therefore a great incentive for companies to collect more and more of these particles. 

Fashion is one of the most polluting industries, with 20 percent of industrial water pollution coming from textile dyeing and treatment, according to a 2017 textiles report by The Ellen Macarthur Foundation which aims to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. So Amanda Parkes, the chief innovation officer at Pangaia, thought that applying Sharma’s innovation would be ideal for screen-printing their garments. And to make their customers an out-of-the-box proposition: wearing air pollution instead of breathing it.

“In the fashion sector, we spend a lot of time in synthetic chemistry, using a lot of toxic chemicals, to get a black this pure,” Parkes told “We already have this perfect black ink in nature, so why not use it instead of synthesizing something else?”

The approach is promising, but challenges remain. The introduction of a new material implies a complex learning curve for manufacturers, and the need for governmental approval, which needs time and effort. On the other hand, AIR-INK is currently double the price of similar black inks on the market due to development costs, while people’s knowledge of climate change is still limited.

But with brands such as Pangaia willing to deepen the conversation on climate change and on how fashion currently contributes to its growth, these issues could become a thing of the past in the not-so-distant future. 

Instead of facing a worldwide challenge with the tools we already know, Sharma’s unique approach has found a solution by looking at it with a fresh eye, a lesson we all can benefit from.

He shows us that if we can’t solve the source of a problem, we can at least transform it into something good, and who knows maybe even create a whole new market out of it.

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With a love for fashion, technology, self-development, nature and communication, Daiana is a freelance writer. She is the creator of an online community platform dedicated to providing inspiration and information on trends, developments and positive impact initiatives in the world of Sustainable Fashion.